The religion of Islam seeks to optimize the relationship between our bodies and souls. Through Islamic laws, ethics, and prescriptions for life, we have a system that does not develop one aspect of our existence at the expense of the other, but that seeks to strike the perfect balance between the two. Among those oft-neglected principles, which are vital for our physical and spiritual growth, is our diet.

An ideal diet is one that benefits not only our bodies, but also our souls. It optimizes the balance in our bodies that will make us healthy,  alert, focused, and able to fulfill our religious responsibilities and obligations. Our traditions give us advice on not only what to eat, but how to eat it—the time of day, the company, and the manner. By implementing the advice that the Holy Household (p) have given us about diet, we will be able to nourish our bodies, souls, and communities.

What, How, and When should we eat?

Beyond what is simply permissible or impermissible, there are many traditions that offer advice on how, when, and what to eat. The Holy Household (pbut) have recommended a variety of foods for their health benefits. For example, Imam Ali al-Rida (p) has spoken of the benefits of barley;1 the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) has frequently mentioned the benefits of drinking room-temperature water and eating honey, among other things;2 and Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) has spoken of the importance of green vegetables.3 Importantly, our Prophet and Imams (pbut) not only speak of the physical benefits of certain foods, but often highlight the relationship between the body and the soul. For instance, the Prophet (pbuh&hp) says, “[Warm water] cleans the liver and the stomach, makes the smell of the mouth pleasant, strengthens the teeth and the eyes, sharpens the sight, causes forgiveness of sins, stimulates the blood vessels, removes bitterness, stops phlegm, decreases the heat in the stomach, and removes headaches.”4 Here, the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) highlights not only the physical benefits of drinking water, which science has long corroborated, but the spiritual reality of its purifying sins.

We see this interaction of body and soul become even more emphasized when these holy figures are discussing the question of when and how much to eat. There are numerous traditions which condemn eating too much or too frequently. Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p) states, “In the eyes of God, nothing is more unfavorable and hated than a full stomach.”5 Here, the Imam emphasizes the spiritual downside of eating too much—it is something which God dislikes. Increasingly, modern science has corroborated the positive effects on our bodies of eating less.6 Eating less, whether through intermittent fasting7 or simply having smaller meals has been proven to have a host of positive effects on the body including weight loss, longer life, and better responses to disease. Our Imams advise eating twice a day, only eating when we are hungry, and never when we are full.8 Often we find ourselves eating just because we are bored. It is important to be mindful and listen to our bodies when we are eating.

Furthermore, our tradition is full of prescriptions for etiquette during mealtimes. Some of the most beautiful of these is regarding eating meals in congregation. Our Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) is reported to have said, “The best food in the eyes of God is that food which has many hands (i.e., many people) involved in eating it.”9 He never ate meals alone and always accepted invitations to meals whenever they came to him.10 This communal approach to meals underscores the power of food to be a force for positive change in our lives—in this case, on a communal level. By spending our meals engaging, sharing, and spreading happiness with our friends and families, we strengthen our communal bonds and relationships.

What are the Effects of What We Eat on the World?

Living in a globalized society where all kinds of food are available all the time brings up many ethical questions about the nature of what we consume. As believers, our concerns should not be merely that we have access to food that is technically halal, but it is important that we have concern for ingredients and animals that may not be ethically sourced. As a simple Internet search shows, there are a great deal of unsustainable practices that take place in modern agriculture.

Our goal as Muslims should not only be to nourish ourselves properly, but to bring environmental and economic justice to the process by which we nourish ourselves. We must question, would the Prophet (pbuh&hp) eat food produced in unethical labor markets? What can I do to better these circumstances?

By eating products from institutions that are environmentally friendly and by working to better the systems which produce our food, we nourish our bodies, souls, and the world that God has given us for our fulfillment and pleasure.

Bits of Advice

1. Be in tune with our bodies. Islam encourages us to think about the ways the foods we eat may benefit or harm our physical and spiritual states. We should ask ourselves whether we are truly hungry and if eating will help us or whether we are eating mindlessly and thus potentially doing harm to our body and soul.

2. Practice fasting. Fasting is a quintessential part of our religion—it also epitomizes the bridging of spiritual and physical exercises. When we fast, we become healthier, but also more spiritual and more cognizant and ethical human beings in accordance with the will of God. The Prophet (pbuh&hp) recommended fasting on Mondays and Thursdays.11

3. Make conscious decisions about what, when, and with whom you eat. Think about your intention when purchasing, serving, or eating food—every action has the potential to improve or denigrate our spiritual status depending on our intentions. Are these ingredients ethically sourced? Does the packaging contain a more environmentally friendly option? Will this shared meal be a positive force in the community? By asking these questions and making conscious decisions, we can reap the benefits of our diets.

1. Al-kafi, vol. 6, p. 305.
2. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 16, p. 242.
3. Wasail al-Shia, v. 25, p. 178.
4. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 16, p. 242.
5. Al-kafi, vol. 6, p. 270.
6. Dennis Thompson, “Want to Live Longer? Eating Less Might Be the Key,” WebMD. Updated March 22, 2018,
7. Kris Gunnars, “10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting,” Healthline, accessed June 21, 2020,
8. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 109, p. 241.
9. Mustadrak al-wasail, vol. 16, p. 233.
10. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 16, p. 241.
11. Jami ahadith al-Shia, vol. 9, p. 412.

1-روي عن الإمام الرضا (ع): “عن أبي الحسن الرضا عليه السلام قال: نعم القوت السويق، إن كنت جائعا أمسك وإن كنت شبعانا هضم طعامك”
2- روي عن النبي (ص): “إنه ينقي الكبد والمعدة، ويطيب النكهة والفم، ويقوي الأضراس والحدق، ويحدد الناظر (4)، ويغسل الذنوب غسلا، ويسكن العروق الهائجة والمرة الغالبة، ويقطع البلغم، ويطفئ الحرارة عن المعدة، ويذهب بالصداع”.
3- روي عن الإمام الصادق (ع): ” يا حنان! أما علمت أن أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام لم يؤت بطبق الا وعليه بقل؟ قلت: ولم؟ قال: لان قلوب المؤمنين خضرة فهي تحن إلى شكلها”
4- روي عن النبي (ص): “إنه ينقي الكبد والمعدة، ويطيب النكهة والفم، ويقوي الأضراس والحدق، ويحدد الناظر (4)، ويغسل الذنوب غسلا، ويسكن العروق الهائجة والمرة الغالبة، ويقطع البلغم، ويطفئ الحرارة عن المعدة، ويذهب بالصداع”.
5- عن الإمام الباقر (ع): “ما من شيء أبغض إلى الله عز وجل من بطن مملوء”
8- روي عن النبي (ص): “ما ملا آدمي وعاء شرا من بطن، حسب الآدمي لقيمات صلبه، فان غلب الآدمي نفسه فثلث للطعام، وثلث للشراب، وثلث للنفس”
9- روي عن النبي (ص): ” أحب الطعام إلى الله ما كثرت عليه الأيدي”
10- ورد في أحوال النبي (ص) “كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله يأكل كل الأصناف من الطعام، وكان يأكل ما أحل الله له، مع أهله وخدمه إذا أكلوا، ومع من يدعوه من المسلمين على الأرض”
11-   “كان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله يصوم الاثنين والخميس”

Leave a Comment: